Hautefeuille, Paul Gabriel

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Hautefeuille, Paul Gabriel

(b. Étampes, Seine-et-Oise, France, 2 December 1836; d. Paris, France, 8 December 1902)


The son of a notary, in 1855 Hautefeuille entered the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, where J. B. Dumas noticed him and recommended the young engineer to H. E. Sainte-Claire Deville at the École Normale Supérieure. There Hautefeuille took a doctorate in the physical sciences in 1865 and became Deville’s assistant and, later, maître de conférences. In 1885 he was named to the chair of mineralogy at the Sorbonne and in 1895 was elected to the Académie des Sciences.

Influenced in his chemical studies by Deville’s thermochemical approach, Hautefeuille was a member of that group at the École Normale Superieure which included Henri Debray, L. J. Troost, Alfred Ditte, and F. Isambert. From 1868 to 1881 he collaborated with Troost in researches which included the conditions of transformation of cyanogen into paracyanogen and of white phosphorus into red phosphorus, and the absorption of hydrogen by sodium, potassium, and palladium. With Troost and with James Chappuis, Hautefeuille studied the allotropic relationship between oxygen and ozone, and in 1882 he obtained liquefied ozone by using Louis Cailletet’s apparatus. His studies of equilibria included the dissociation of hydriodic acid (1867) and the oxidation of hydrochloric acid (1889) in air.

Hautefeuille’s best-known studies were his reproductions of numerous crystallized minerals by utilizing mineral catalysts and varied temperature conditions; he carried on this research at a time when the generality of polymorphism among crystals was not fully realized. In his doctoral thesis, for example, he established that three different types of titanium dioxide—the rutile, octahedrite, and brookite crystals—could each be prepared in the laboratory from the amorphous dioxide; he also demonstrated the temperature dependence of two of the crystalline forms of silica—quartz and tridymite—and successfully produced a variety of alkaline feldspars and beryls, including the emerald. In his experiments Hautefeuille employed catalysts readily available under natural conditions, and his work confirmed the views of the French school of lithology dating from Elie de Beaumont.


I. Original Works. Hautefeuille was hesitant to publish his researches, scrupulously delaying even his notes to the Academy in order to revise them. A complete list of his publications is in Georges Lemoine’s short biography, Les travaux et la vie de Paul Hautefeuille (Louvain, 1904), which is an extract from Revue des questions scientifiques, 55 (1904), 5–25. Several of his papers are reprinted in Henry Le Chatelier et al., eds., Les Classiques de la science: vol. III, Eau oxygéneé et ozone (Paris, 1913), and vol. VI, La fusion du platine et dissociation (Paris, 1914).

II. Secondary Literature. Hautefeuille requested that no eulogies be delivered upon his death. Besides the discussion of his life and work in Lemoine, see Alfred Lacroix, “Gabriel Hautefeuille (1836–1902),” in Figures des savants, I (Paris, 1932), 81–89.

Mary Jo Nye